Learning to speak the five leadership languages

  • Published
  • By Maj. Tina Nguyen
  • 71st Comptroller-Contracting Squadron commander
This past year I read a book called "The 5 Love Languages" by Gary Chapman. As a long time marriage counselor, he has determined that love is generally spoken in five languages: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and physical touch.

Through his counseling sessions, Dr. Chapman discovered that couples tend to speak different love languages, often resulting in miscommunication and hurt feelings. He recommended that we identify our own love language to better understand how we need to be loved, and to learn how to speak our loved ones' language to properly express our love for them.

As I read this book, I started to wonder how I could apply these languages as a squadron commander, because, as has often been said, people don't care what you know until they know you care. The question became -- how can I show that I care in a way that people will understand?

Words of affirmation seems to be a common language in my squadron. I've had several folks tell me that they don't care about awards or recognition but like being told that they had done a good job. For them, words actually do speak louder than actions. Empty compliments mean nothing, but sincere words of praise and appreciation are important to show that I care about them. This language becomes easier for me the more I practice it.

Providing quality time can sometimes be difficult in the midst of short-notice taskers, a slew of meetings and long teleconferences. However, spending time with my folks, listening to what's going on in their lives, asking about their family members and allowing them to air their grievances is definitely worthwhile, even if it means staying late to finish up a project. This is one of my stronger languages because it comes more naturally to me, but I can still improve it.

Folks whose language is receiving gifts are usually not focused on the cost of the gift, but the thought behind the gift -- apparently it is the thought that counts. Since giving gifts is discouraged in the Air Force, I have to be a bit more creative. Handwriting notes, remembering to say happy birthday and calling a member who seems a bit down that day shows that I'm thinking about them.

Acts of service, doing things for others, takes some effort. But it will eventually come easier, especially when I learn from others. My squadron members demonstrate these acts by stocking the snack bar items, baking cookies for a squadron member on convalescent leave and putting away workout equipment after squadron physical training. These acts are not expensive nor time consuming, yet go a long way in showing they care.

The language of physical touch doesn't apply literally in the Air Force. However, it can be thought of as wanting recognition as a valuable worker. This can translate into being nominated for awards, considered for promotion or acknowledged in front of the squadron as being the best. I struggle with this language, knowing that I can't make everyone happy and I need to be fair.

In the past nine months as a squadron commander, I have gained a better understanding of what leadership language my squadron members relate to best, and I am trying to be more deliberate in speaking their language. Instead of just letting people know you care, I would go further and say people won't know you care unless you speak their language.